Volvo Cars announced during the Volvo Cars Tech Moment event a major change in its approach to software, computing and hardware electronics.
The company is aware that a car’s appeal increasingly becomes more defined by software-driven functions and features, rather than traditional automotive attributes. It intends also to accelerate the development process and introduce more frequent hardware cycles.
New models will be launched with the latest available hardware, while the software will be updated over-the-air through the lifetime of the cars.
The first point is the all-new Volvo Cars operating system (OS), called VolvoCars.OS, developed in-house, but in partnership with Google (which is Volvo's strategic partner and supplier of current Android-based infotainment system).
"Volvo Car Group was the first car maker to introduce cars with an infotainment system powered by Android Automotive OS with Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Play built-in. It now continues its strategic collaboration with Google to take infotainment and connectivity to the next level."
It will be introduced in the next generation of electric Volvo models, starting with the upcoming electric SUV (XC90 successor) in 2022.
The manufacturer promises that the VolvoCars.OS will translate into faster and more flexible software development, and more frequent over-the-air updates to customer cars.
"VolvoCars.OS will act as an umbrella system for electric Volvo cars. It incorporates the company’s various operating systems across the car and the cloud, creating one coherent software OS environment. The underlying operating systems include Android Automotive OS, QNX, AUTOSAR and Linux.
Through a variety of application programming interfaces (APIs), including the previously announced Extended Vehicle API, the VolvoCars.OS gives developers access to in-car features such as vehicle sensor data, user interfaces and cloud-based features such as fleet data, subject to customer consent. This allows developers to create new services and applications for Volvo cars."
Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars said:
“By developing software in-house we can boost development speeds and improve your Volvo faster than we can today. Just like on your smartphone or computer, new software and features can be rolled out swiftly through over-the-air updates, making your Volvo better and even more enjoyable over time.”
The second, but not less important point, is a new centralized computing system, that will be simpler and will allow full benefits from taking the software development in-house.
The company will equip the cars (starting with next-generation BEVs in 2022) with three main computers, responsible for vision processing and artificial intelligence, general computing and infotainment.
Thanks to that, the company will be able to remove multiple electronic control units around the car that control individual features and systems. The centralized computing unit will be launched in partnership with NVIDIA.
"To truly benefit from developing software in-house, Volvo Cars is also centralising computing inside its fully electric cars into a core system, removing a lot of complexity. Rather than relying on multiple electronic control units around the car that control individual features and systems, an increasing amount of in-house-developed software will run in a powerful core computing system in the car."
"The shift to centralised computing also allows Volvo Cars to gradually separate hardware from software. This means the company can introduce more frequent hardware cycles, so that new Volvo models can be equipped with the latest available hardware."
Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars added:
“We have a deliberate strategy of partnering with true technology leaders where it makes sense. Google is a true leader in user experience and services, from Google Maps to Google Assistant, while NVIDIA gives us access to some of the fastest and best computing available. This approach of selected strategic partnerships is much more effective than trying to do everything on our own.”
Both things remind us what Tesla did years ago - in-house software and very powerful central computing units.
If that's the right direction for the automotive industry - in which we truly believe - then, soon we will see more manufacturers announcing similar move. After all, Volvo was also the first (or at least one of the first) to announce move to at least hybrid powertrains, and then only all-electric cars (by 2030).